Chile: a trendy destination for astrotourism. The booming of astrotourism.
With the ever-worsening quality of our planet’s night sky due to light pollution, more and more people want to discover or rediscover it. And nothing better than to do it while you go on holiday! It has indeed become quite a trend in the past decade. Whether they go away exclusively to stargaze or just include it as part of their trip, astrotourists are setting the tone for eco-tourism and the preservation of our night sky.
Light pollution has become a worldwide problem since the rapid expansion of cities and the massive increase of the population of our planet in the recent decades. However despite this sticky situation, the world still holds extremely dark places to gaze at the night sky and they’re attracting an increasing number of people for this exact reason. Among them lies Chile at the top of the list. Here’s why the South American country is becoming the Mecca of astro-tourism…
Chile is a long, narrow country stretching along South America’s western edge, with more than 6,000km of Pacific Ocean coastline. The eastern side of Chile is bordered in all its length by the famous Andes range. The mountains act as a shield that stops the clouds and moisture from penetrating from the west and the east, leaving a very dry and arid plateau in the middle. Now the high elevation in addition to the dryness of the air make up the perfect recipe for the space observation. That’s why the biggest telescopes in the world can be found there. That’s also part of the explanation as to why the astrotourism is rapidly growing in that region of the world.
Locals and scientists are trying to fight the growing light pollution of Chile thanks to the expansion of small villages and bigger cities. In spite of that, the country still holds some of the best skies in the world for stargazing. The purity and thinness of the air help produce a very clear and pinpoint sky above, which you wouldn’t get at sea level. Even the pictures you take have this transparency, almost as if you were taking a shot from the International Space Station. Not only this but the dry mountains and high plateaus like Atacama in the North of the country also offer a seemingly countless amount of gorgeous foregrounds to visit and shoot from.
Catci, canyons, eroded cliffs, rivers, ponds, salars, geysirs, volcanoes, snowy plains and even wildlife, you name it! Chile has it all! After posting sequences of the milky way reflecting in bodies of water, people would not believe it was taken in what is known as the driest desert in the world: the Atacama desert. Believe it or not, there is actually a lot of water if you know where to look. It’s mainly found as saltwater stagnating in salars and lagoons, in which you can also take a swim! At night, those pools transform into a vast mirror reflecting the millions stars of the firmament, as the wind usually dies after sunset. All these things also make Chile a trendy destination.
Exploring the desert and mountains in Chile is no easy task. It’s not because of the weather but more because there aren’t many roads and most of them are dirt lanes with sometimes very sharp rocks strewn here and there on the way. However there exists an oasis of coolness and tradition in the heart of Atacama, which is also the reason why so many tourists are drawn there. San Pedro de Atacama is a very small town perched at 2400m of altitude in the Atacama desert, at the foothills of the higher plateaus and volcanoes. If you visit the community, you will be surprised by how much this traditional town has thrived on tourism, and how easy it is to get what you are looking for in terms of hotel or food supply. It counts an impressive number of excellent restaurants, sometimes quite sophisticated!
Further south, the Elqui Valley is also a much coveted place for astrophotographers alike. It is a very long and pleasant trench going from La Serena by the ocean to Argentina deep in the mountains. There flourish a lot of vineyards and picturesque villages. Among the easy-to-access roads, you will find a lot of arid hills to observe the stars from. If you travel about an hour away from La Serena, you get rid of almost all the light pollution around. That’s where you will also find a lot of different observatories that are open for the public to visit, including night visits for some.
Chile, a trendy destination: If the last paragraphs haven’t convinced you yet to go stargazing in Chile though, this video certainly will: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGY5sLdyajk